There's so much to enjoy in Calgary, with more than 50 festivals taking place throughout the year--several of which are either devoted to, or in some way incorporate film, including the International Festival of Animated Objects, the $100 Film Festival, the Japan Film Festival, the Hidden Gems Film Festival, Sled Island, the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival, the Calgary International Film Festival, and the Calgary Underground Film Festival. So many films, so little time!
Back for another year of bringing color and wonder to Globe screens, the Calgary Underground Film Festival kicks off its 11th annual event April 7, with an impressive lineup that will see the festival showcase four encores for the first time in its history. As a self-admitted film fan, I'll be taking in as many of these underground gems as I can, but even the best of us need a little guidance when it comes to structuring seven days of celluloid immersion. So here I have for you my top picks for this years' Calgary Underground Film Festival.
It wouldn't be CUFF without the Found Footage Festival and Saturday Morning Cartoon Party! (my personal favorite and an annual tradition with my sister). The fascinating Found Footage Festival serves up 90 minutes of found footage obtained from thrift stores, dumpsters, garage sales and the like. Joe Pickett (of The Onion) and Nick Prueher (Late Show with David Letterman) curate this annual collection, taking audiences on a guided tour of these VHS diamonds in the rough, provided live commentary that will make this night part of your annual repertoire forever. You can also join the after party--with Nick and Joe--at The Ship and Anchor the same evening.
The always entertaining--and for many of us, refreshingly nostalgic--Saturday Morning Cartoon Party! is a must-see morning of vintage cartoons served up with an all-you-can-eat cold cereal bar. The Cartoon Party has grown so popular over the past years that in 2014, it will overtake not one Globe cinema, but both simultaneously! Wear your favorite jammies and load up the kids (of all ages) and spend the morning reliving your favorite Saturday morning gems. If you see nothing else at CUFF this year--which of course, you won't--make it the Cartoon Party.
The Found Footage Festival plays Tuesday, April 8 at 7:00 p.m., while the Saturday Morning Cartoon Party! takes place near the end of the festival, Saturday, April 12, at 10:00 a.m..
Fancy a little S&M on your Tuesday evening? Then check out "R100," Hitoshi Matsumoto's comedic drama about a single father--his wife tragically being in a coma--who "drifts through his daily duties...in a fog of depression." That is, of course, until he signs on for a year of public humiliation with a boutique S&M agency. It's not long before this quiet gentleman feels in over his head; but contracts are binding, and when he ceases to hold up his end of the bargain, he finds himself pursued by a dominatrix gang.
"R100" plays Tuesday, April 8 at 9:45 p.m.. Japanese with English subtitles.
"Doomsdays" (USA, 2013)
Slated as a "pre-apocalyptic comedy," "Doomsdays" chronicles the misadventures of Dirty Fred and Bruho, two squatters, as they trek across the Catskills fearing that dwindling petroleum resources will soon bring about economic collapse. So they're preparing the best way they know how, inadvertently picking up random associates along the way. I'm really looking forward to this Alberta premiere.
You'll have two chances to catch "Doomsdays": Wednesday, April 9 at 9:45 p.m., or at the encore, Sunday, April 13 at 9:45 p.m..
"Love Eternal" (Ireland, 2013)
"As a child, Ian Harding watched his father die. He subsequently locked himself up in his room, shutting himself off from society and human interaction. When Ian's mother dies a year later, he is left alone in the world and decides to end it all. Through a bizarre chance encounter, he discovers the lifeless body of a schoolgirl. Something about her and her suicide note resonates deeply within him, and Ian decides to bring her body home. He sleeps peacefully by her side, and for the first time his eyes are opened to the possibility of love and life.
Ian actively starts to meet up with others who are contemplating suicide, offering to accompany them in their fatal process. Thus begins an unexpected journey of initiation between life and death, one that leads Ian to find love with a suicidal young woman who recently lost her child. What transpires is a macabre ode to love, loss and the bonds that unite us."
Touching on issues of mental illness, friendship and our search for love, "Love Eternal" looks to strike a creative and interesting balance for audiences, evoking thoughts and feelings we often shy away from, while at the same time striking on some very topical issues being raised by Dying With Dignity proponents. A must see in my opinion, for so many reasons.
"Love Eternal" plays Thursday, April 10 at 7:00 p.m..
"Vannin'" (USA, 2014)
Whether you're a documentary nut or not, I'd wager you'll find "Vannin'" worth your time. Billed as "a weird and wonderful look at the subculture of van enthusiasts who continue to keep the 1970s dream alive, from the Scooby Doo gang's Mystery Wagon to dragon-bedecked, plush cruisers", it's bound to be a quirky 60 minutes.
"Vannin'" plays Friday, April 11, at 7:30 p.m..
Shorts: People Are Strange
One of my favorite parts of any film festival is the Shorts selections. Short films have been gaining increasing positive attention lately, with more and more highly acclaimed and notable offerings garnering Oscar recognition--do "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" (2011) or Disney's "Paperman"(2012) ring a bell? Today's short films are more than just a way to get "more bang for your buck"--though, in an effort to see more and more films, this is one of the reasons I love Shorts collections; they tell often complex stories in relatable and beautifully-detailed fashion. They're not just shorter films, they jam-pack all the confusion, emotion, creativity and wonder of a full-length film into a bite-sized snack that keeps you full for hours. Like astronaut cuisine, only without the chalky aftertaste.
Whether you're new to shorts or a seasoned veteran, this years' line up, People Are Strange, is bound to speak to you on some level. Strap in for 102 minutes of multicultural magic. If you don't like every film, you're bound to come away with something that resonated with you.
Shorts: People Are Strange screens Saturday, April 12 at 4:30 p.m..
"The Machine" (UK, 2013)
If you're looking to add a little science fiction to your plate, Caradog James's "The Machine" looks to be a meaty offering. Pulling together themes of political unrest, globalization, individuality, ethics and artificial intelligence in a not-too-distant, dystopian future, "The Machine" explores our continued drive to develop a conscious machine. An official selection of the 2013 Fantasia Film Festival and Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013, and in association with local community partner Beakerhead, the Alberta premiere of "The Machine" might be the fascinating, potentially-controversial and creative film it's purported to be.
"The Machine" plays Saturday, April 12 at 7:30 p.m..
If you're looking for even more options to add to your repertoire, I'd highly suggest you take in the following, if you can: "We Are The Best! (Vi Ar Bast!)", the Swedish tale of pre-pubescent, female punk rockers; the French "Swim Little Fish Swim"; David Wnendt's erotic comedy, "Wetlands"; the Japanese thriller/comedy, "Why Don't You Play in Hell"; the bound-to-be iconic Jorodowsky Retrospective double bill, featuring El Topo and The Holy Mountain; "Mood Indigo" (from writer/director Michel Gondry of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"); and "Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory" (USA, 2014, documentary), but catch the encore screening on Saturday, April 12 so you can see it as well as "Love Eternal".
All CUFF films screen at the Globe Cinema, 617 8 Avenue SW; tickets are $10 ($8.25 for CUFF members), and are available online and at the door. Ticket prices vary for special events - including the Found Footage Festival and the Saturday Morning Cartoon Party! - and galas. For more information, visit https://www.calgaryundergroundfilm.org/.